NIETZSCHE: The Will to Power

In Nietzsche’s book Thus Spoke Zarathustra, there are three major teachings Zarathustra has to offer: the Will to Power, the conception of the Eternal Recurrence and the advocacy of the Overman.

In this post we will explore the meaning behind the will to power.

Introduction

The will to power is one of the most fundamental concepts in the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. It is also one of his most complex concepts as it was never systematically defined in his works, leaving its interpretation open to debate. Nietzsche had considered writing a book under the title “The Will to Power” which he announced in the Genealogy of Morals published in 1887:

“These things will be addressed by me more fully and seriously in another connection (with the title “On the History of European Nihilism”; for which I refer you to a work I am writing, The Will to Power, Attempt at a Revaluation of all Values).”

Genealogy of Morals, Third Essay, §27

However, in 1888, Nietzsche had abandoned the entire project of The Will to Power and decided to write a new four-part magnum opus with his notes gathered in the abandoned project, under the title “Revaluation of All Values” and actually finished the first quarter: The Antichrist. Unfortunately he could not complete this monumental task as he experienced a mental breakdown in 1889, with a complete loss of his mental faculties for the remaining 11 years of his life.

During this time, Nietzsche’s sister Elisabeth and his friend Peter Gast took possession of all his unpublished notes and edited them to publish The Will to Power, Elisabeth claimed that this text was her brother’s magnum opus. Sadly, she wanted to use it to pursue her personal agenda in National Socialism.

This work has since then been superseded by an expanded second version containing 1067 sections, which includes Nietzsche’s original notes. This is what has come to be commonly known as The Will to Power. Although, it remains a posthumously published work, rather than a text completed by him, it is still an excellent anthology of selections from his notebooks.

We will be focusing on what Nietzsche actually wrote and published himself during his active years, as well as making some references to his unpublished notes where it is appropriate.

Desire for Power: A Psychological Insight

Nietzsche’s early works “Human, All Too Human (1878)”, “The Dawn (1881)” and “The Gay Science (1882)”, provide his first psychological insights on the “desire for power”. He writes:

“The reason why a powerful person is grateful is this: his benefactor has […] intruded into [his] sphere […] It is a milder form of revenge. Without the satisfaction of gratitude, the powerful man would have shown himself powerless and would hence be considered so. Therefore every society of the good, i.e., originally of the powerful, places gratitude amongst the first duties.”

Human, All Too Human, §44

Nietzsche explains that if somebody does something for you, there is an implication that you were powerless and needed his help. You are degraded in his eyes and in your own. Then you thank him, and the implication is reversed: he has done something for you, as if you were the powerful one and he your servant. In that sense, gratitude may be considered a mild form of revenge.

In another aphorism, Nietzsche observes the effort of people to arouse pity:

“[…] ask yourself whether that ready complaining and whimpering, that making a show of misfortune, does not, at bottom, aim at making the spectators miserable; the pity which the spectators then exhibit is in so far a consolation for the weak and suffering in that the latter recognise therein that they possess still one power, in spite of their weakness, the power of giving pain.”

Human, All Too Human, §50

As we can observe, the early Nietzsche does not find this desire for power admirable – more often than not, he used it to explain behaviour he happened to dislike.

This would later change with his Genealogy of Morals, which Human, All-Too-Human laid the seeds for. He explains that the desire for power exists both among the powerful – whose high esteem of gratitude Nietzsche would explain thus – and among the impotent, whose desire for pity Nietzsche construes as prompted by a desire for power.

Here we stumble upon a crucial point: that an apparent negation of the desire for power is explained in terms of the desire for power. Even asceticism, humility, self-abasement and renunciation of worldly power are motivated by this way. He writes:

“Indeed, happiness – taken as the most alive feeling of power – has perhaps nowhere on earth been greater than in the souls of superstitious ascetics.”

The Dawn, §113

In another aphorism, he states:

“Power which has greatly suffered both in deed and in thought is better than powerlessness which only meets with kind treatment—such was the Greek way of thinking. In other words, the feeling of power was prized more highly by them than any mere utility or fair renown.”

The Dawn, §360

The powerful have no need to prove their might either to themselves or to others by oppressing or hurting others, only the weak man wishes to hurt and to see the signs of suffering. This sudden association of power to the Greeks was a decisive step in the development of this conception into an all-embracing monism, as “will to power”.

With these insights, the possibility of a psychological monism suggests itself: all psychological phenomena might be reducible to the will to power. Nietzsche, however, is not primarily in search of any basic principle, he does not jump to this conclusion – yet.

The Origin of the “Will to Power”

In 1883, the concept of the will to power came like a flash of lightning, and in a frenzied feeling of inspiration, Nietzsche wrote Thus Spoke Zarathustra, where the will to power makes its first appearance. It is introduced as one of the three major teachings Zarathustra has to offer, the other two being the Ubermensch and the Eternal Recurrence.

He writes:

“Only where there is life, there is also will: not will to life but […] will to power. There is much that life esteems more highly than life itself; but out of the esteeming itself speaks the will to power. Thus life taught me.”

Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Part 2, On Self Overcoming.

Nietzsche was fundamentally concerned with commanding or exercising power over oneself, not over others. The will to power is a dynamic force in continuous becoming and striving, manifesting itself in the encounter with obstacles. It is the expression of self-realisation, becoming who you truly are.

Zarathustra embodies the struggle of the will to power, as obstacles inevitably give way to resistances. He is completely uninterested in gaining power over others, as he states: “I lack the lion’s voice for all commanding”.  In fact, he keeps insisting that the last thing he wants is the ability to command his disciples, but rather that they follow themselves.

Nietzsche summarises the will to power most succinctly in The Antichrist:

“What is good? All that heightens the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man. What is bad? All that proceeds from weakness. What is happiness? The feeling that power increases — that a resistance is overcome.”

The Antichrist, §2

Will to Power and Self-overcoming

The secret that Zarathustra has learned from life is self-overcoming, the characteristic of the Ubermensch. As we have seen, the key problem is self-commanding. However, it is not as easy as it sounds. In fact, many people embody what Nietzsche calls the “Last Man”, the antithesis of the Ubermensch, those who are all alike and follow others – a herd mentality –  too afraid to do anything extreme and remain in mediocrity all their lives. They do not take risks because of fear or laziness.

However, Nietzsche does not write for them, but for that small percentage of people who want true fulfilment and happiness out of life. The only way to achieve the highest level of happiness is to take risks.

“For believe me! — the secret for harvesting from existence the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment is: to live dangerously!”

The Gay Science, §283

There’s almost a zero percent chance that you won’t experience some form of extreme pain in your life. Nietzsche tells us to not run from this reality, but to face it and overcome it, in order to grow.

Think of the metaphor of climbing a mountain, there are obstacles and difficulties ahead, one can even risk falling from the heights and injuring or killing oneself. However, once you reach the top of the mountain, you’ll be able to see the most beautiful views imaginable.

“He who climbs upon the highest mountains laughs at all tragedies, real or imaginary.”

Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Part I, On Reading and Writing

Those who do not overcome their obstacles, will miss the most amazing moments of life and live mediocre lives.

Will to Power and Sublimation

Nietzsche’s concept of sublimation is key to understanding the will to power. He believed that a sexual impulse, for example, could find satisfaction in the attainment of something else, such as creative spiritual activity, instead of being fulfilled directly.

One of his main critics of Christianity is that it did not sublimate the instincts but rather repudiated them. As the instincts are what makes us human beings, it is against life itself – contrary to the will to power, in which instincts are the main drive force in humans.

This contrast of the abnegation, repudiation, and extirpation of the passions on the one side, and their control and sublimation on the other, is one of the most important points in Nietzsche’s entire philosophy.

The man who can develop his faculty of reason only by extirpating his sensuality has a weak spirit; a strong spirit need not make war on the impulses: it masters them fully and is—to Nietzsche’s mind—the acme of human power.

He points out that most of the great philosophers were not married and explains the matter as follows:

“As for the “chastity” of philosophers, finally, this type of spirit clearly has its fruitfulness somewhere else than in children; perhaps it also has the survival of its name elsewhere, its little immortality”

Genealogy of Morals, Third Essay, §8

And in his notes, he writes:

“Making music is another way of making children”

Will to Power, §800

Will to Power as Dualistic

The will to power as the only interpretation also supposes its opposite, namely, decadence. Decay must be explicable from the striving for growth, just as weakness must be comprehensible in terms of the principle of strength. He writes:

“But what if pleasure and pain should be so closely connected that he who wants the greatest possible amount of the one must also have the greatest possible amount of the other, that he who wants to experience the ‘heavenly high jubilation’ must also be ready to be ‘sorrowful’ unto death?”

The Gay Science, §12

Human beings do not seek pleasure and avoid displeasure, they seek an increase of power which is confronted by displeasure as an obstacle to their will to power. It is therefore natural for human beings to have a continual need for displeasure in order to grow.

Will to Power vs Will to Existence (Nietzsche contra Darwin)

The will to power opposes the prevalent notion of the “will to existence”. He writes:

“Indeed, the one who shot at truth with the words ‘will to existence’ did not hit it: this will – does not exist! For, what is not can not will; but what is in existence, how could this still will to exist! Only where life is, is there also will; but not will to life, instead – thus I teach you – will to power!”

Part 2. On Self Overcoming. Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

In Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche considered himself an Anti-Darwin. Darwin proposed that we evolved through natural selection whereby one’s ability to survive will leave the most copies of itself in successive generations.

Herbert Spencer, a follower of Darwin, coined the well-known phrase “survival of the fittest”, however unlike Darwin, he believed that all living beings seek first and foremost self-preservation. Darwin does not propose self-preservation, but rather that behaviours that are advantageous are the ones preserved in natural selection.

Thus, Nietzsche misattributes self-preservation to Darwin.

In The Gay Science, Nietzsche writes:

“To will to preserve oneself is the expression of distress, of a limitation of the genuinely basic drive of life which aims at the expansion of power and in this willing frequently risks and even sacrifices self-preservation […] The struggle for existence is only an exception, a temporary restriction of the life-will; the great and small struggle always turns upon superiority, upon growth and expansion, upon power, in accordance with the will to power, which is just the will of life”

The Gay Science, §349

What is clear is that Nietzsche’s survival is not merely self-preservation, but is primarily struggle for increase of power. Everything strives for power, for the most, unconsciously.  

Beyond Good and Evil has the most references to the “will to power” in his published works, appearing in 11 aphorisms. Nietzsche reiterates that life is not self-preservation:

“Physiologists should think before putting down the instinct of self-preservation as the cardinal instinct of an organic being. A living thing seeks above all to discharge its strength – life itself is will to power; self-preservation is only one of the indirect and most frequent results.”

Beyond Good and Evil, §13

Furthermore, in his notes, he writes:

“It can be shown most clearly for every living thing, that it does everything, not in order to preserve itself, but to become more.”

Will To Power, §688

Just as a tree will naturally seek to grow its roots and gain resources, so will a person seek to develop his health, wealth, strength and status – which are all expressions of his will to power.

Will to Power vs Will to Live (Nietzsche contra Schopenhauer)

Schopenhauer had written long before Darwin about his concept of the “will to live”.  Nietzsche had read Schopenhauer extensively in his youth and he became a sort of father figure for him, although he later grew apart from his philosophy. As he would say:

“One repays a teacher badly if one always remains nothing but a pupil”

Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Part I, “On Bestowing Virtue”

Nietzsche rejected the “will to live” in favour of his “will to power”. Schopenhauer’s Will is a metaphysical concept inspired by his readings of Kant’s noumenon or the unknowable “thing in itself”, which exists independently of human sense and perception – it is the opposite of phenomenon, which refers to any object of the senses, such as sight and sounds.

For Schopenhauer, the Will is the cause of all suffering, as human life is a ceaseless struggle for satisfaction. We are constantly pursuing objects of desire to become happy, but when we achieve them, we do not become satisfied – it merely liberates us from our previous pain. We remain in a constant state of suffering and restlessness, until we inevitably die. Thus the pessimism of his philosophy.

Nevertheless, he does believe that we can achieve momentary bliss and peace of mind whereby the Will ceases its desire of striving. This comes from aesthetic experiences, such as music and art.

However, the only way we can free ourselves from our miserable existence is through the total negation of the Will and lead an ascetic life , in order to minimise suffering.

Nietzsche, as we have seen, embraces suffering, as it is precisely what helps us grow in life. Pain is necessary and not to be devalued. Since obstacles cause pain, we must overcome them so that we can advance our power. As he says in one of his most popular phrases:

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Twilight of the Idols, Maxims and Arrows, §8.

Will to Power vs Will to Truth (Nietzsche contra Philosophers)

As an experimental philosopher, Nietzsche sought to break with the delusion of the metaphysicians who believed that they could solve all of life’s riddles with one stroke, with one word, and become “unriddlers of the universe”. He claims that philosophers’ “will to truth” (i.e., their apparent desire to dispassionately seek objective, absolute truth) is actually nothing more than a manifestation of their will to power.

“Will to truth –  you call that which drives you and makes you lustful, you wisest ones? Will to thinkability of all being, that’s what I call your will! You first want to make all being thinkable, because you doubt, with proper suspicion, whether it is even thinkable. But for you it shall behave and bend! Thus your will wants it. It shall become smooth and subservient to the spirit, as its mirror and reflection. That is your entire will, you wisest ones, as a will to power; and even when you speak of good and evil and of valuations. You still want to create the world before which you could kneel: this is your ultimate hope and intoxication.”

Part 2. On Self Overcoming. Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

Will to Power and Metaphysics

In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche tells us to suppose that we succeeded in explaining our entire instinctive life as the development and ramification of one basic form of the will, which includes everything from procreation to nourishment, if so:

“The world seen from within […] it would simply be “will to power” and nothing else.”

Beyond Good and Evil, §36

Some interpreters have emphasised this view of the will to power as a metaphysical general force underlying all reality, making it more directly analogous to Schopenhauer’s will to live. This brings some confusion as Nietzsche is against metaphysics.

Many Nietzschean scholars have insisted that the will to power is less metaphysical and more pragmatic than Schopenhauer’s, while Schopenhauer thought the will to live was what was most real in the universe, Nietzsche’s will to power can be understood primarily as the key concept of a psychological hypothesis, as well as a useful principle for the purpose of the individual’s life.

However, we cannot deny that Nietzsche views it more and more as a basic force of the entire universe in his later life. What can we make of this contradiction?

Martin Heidegger’s work continues to have an enormous influence on how Nietzsche’s notion of the will to power is interpreted – as a traditional metaphysical unity. However, there is a crucial distinction to be made in terms of metaphysics. Wherever Nietzsche rejects metaphysics it is only the Platonic-Christian tradition in which “Being” is understood as fixed and static, such as Plato’s world of forms or the Christian concept of heaven.  

Nietzsche’s will to power symbolises an eternal Becoming, thus it does not possess a substantial, durable character. It is a monism in which even being is conceived as becoming. Being is thus not opposed to becoming, but rather becoming includes being. Keeping this in mind, it is possible to talk about the metaphysics of the will to power.

A crucial point must be made in Nietzsche’s concept of power, it is characterised by intrinsic relationality: power is only power in relation to another power. In other words, there are no  first things, which then have relations with each other; rather, things are what they are by virtue of their relations.

Nietzsche’s concept of power implies that reality is dynamic – there is no fixed cause that can be separated from that causation. This structure implies that power must be understood as a necessary striving for more power. Power is a necessary striving to expand itself and is only power insofar as it can maintain itself against other powers and strives to predominate over them.

However, speaking about “a will to power” is misleading, for all reality is will to power. It is not an independent unity, it is always a variable and relational multiplicity held together, and those wills to power exist only as a multiplicity of wills to power, and so on ad infinitum. It is always at war with itself.

It is a single basic force whose very essence it is to manifest itself in diverse ways and to create multiplicity— not ex nihilo, but out of itself.

In Nietzsche’s worldview nothing has existence and meaning outside the “game” of power relations. Because of this, there is no withdrawal from this “game”.

This chaos is not a mere burden that we have to overcome to survive or make our life easier, it also plays a very positive role. It is the basis of all creation and creativity, without it nothing novel could emerge.

“One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.”

Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Zarathustra’s Prologue, 5.

Conclusion

To conclude – Nietzsche’s conception of the will to power is not primarily a metaphysical principle. His central concern is with man, and power is to him above all a state of the human being. The projection of the will to power from the human sphere to the cosmos is an afterthought.

Wealth and military might were never signs of great power to Nietzsche’s mind; and he realised fully that power involves self-discipline and self-overcoming, this is, in fact, the central point of the will to power.


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NIETZSCHE: The Will to Power

The will to power is one of the most fundamental concepts in the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. It is also one of his most complex concepts as it was never systematically defined in his works, leaving its interpretation open to debate.

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The Three Metamorphoses – Nietzsche

In Nietzsche’s book Thus Spoke Zarathustra, he presents three stages in life for self-overcoming: the camel, the lion, and the child.

1. The Camel

The spirit first becomes a camel, but not everybody can become a camel. There are many heavy things for the spirit, things that weigh upon us (our vanity, the satisfaction of our appetite, being the centre of attention). A camel requires us to be greater than ourselves, and that requires some sacrifice – the strength longs for the heavy.

“What is heavy? thus asks the weight-bearing spirit, thus it kneels down like the camel and wants to be well laden. What is the heaviest thing, you heroes? […] Is it not this: to debase yourself in order to injure your pride? To let your folly shine out in order to mock your wisdom?”

(Nietzsche, First Part, The Three Metamorphoses)

Nietzsche suggests that when we feel proud of ourselves, we are to take on even more weight to show that we are not that great after all. In other words, to humble ourselves.

The weight bearing spirit takes on these heaviest things like a camel hurrying laden into the desert. Here is where we undergo a new transformation, we become the lion.

2. The Lion

Now that those burdens are gone, the lion wants to take on freedom, but it is confronted by the mightiest of dragons, on every scale of which is a rule, every “Thou shalt” compiled since the beginning of time – the lion must fight back and oppose the dragon, saying I Will – uttering the “sacred No”. However, the lion lives in rebellion – it has yet to undergo a final and last transformation – becoming the child.

3. The Child

Nietzsche states that:

“The child is innocence and forgetfulness, a new beginning, a game, a self-propelling wheel, a first motion, a sacred Yes.”

(Nietzsche, First Part, The Three Metamorphoses)

Having uttered the “sacred No” to reject everything that came before, the child shouts the “sacred Yes” that affirms life. The loss of shame, compassion and child-like spirit will be the step that leads to freedom, by doing that it wins its own world, with no burdens or no’s, he can create his own values, and not to be left with superfluous pleasures that hinder a full enjoyment of the existence.


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Greatest Philosophers In History | Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche’s main concepts on living life revolve around self-overcoming, amor fati, perspectivism, human nobility, the will to power, the eternal recurrence, and the overman.

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Nietzsche – God Is Dead: The Decline of Christianity

Perhaps one of Nietzsche’s most famous statements is his proclamation of the death of god:

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”

As you might tell, it doesn’t sound very much like a celebratory statement. Although Nietzsche was concerned on ending all the values that have been compiled for millennia from all kinds of civilizations and that are rooted within society, he did believe it to be necessary and possible.

He calls this process of transcending our existing values as a Revaluation of All Values. Proposing that a revaluation of values that runs deeply enough can eventually lead the entire human race into a new pattern of life beyond the human, a figure which he calls the Übermensch or Overman.

By proclaiming the death of god, Nietzsche looked upon a historical event where god, who played a central role in most people’s lives for many centuries has now become one of many facets of some people’s lives. There are still believers and churches, but god no longer defines the role of our world, it is for this reason that god is dead.

Church stained glass

Nietzsche states Christianity to be fundamentally rooted in a “slave morality” and he criticises the masses, for this suicide of reason, this worm-like reason.

The slave morality resents the virtues of the powerful. However, Nietzsche perceives evil as something powerful and dangerous, it is felt to contain a certain awesome quality, a subtlety and strength that block any incipient contempt. According to the slave morality then, “evil” inspires fear; but according to the “master morality”, it is “good” that wants to inspire fear.

The sacrifice of all freedom, pride and self confidence in the spirit leads to enslavement.  The master morality does not intend to oppress others, but rather create new values and ways of life. A slave morality sees virtue from refraining to exercise one’s power and sees evil in doing so.

He argues that Christianity is derived from subservience, obedience and being a member of a flock. It is a way of hating life and wanting to escape life into a heavenly and eternal afterlife.

Christianity

However, the less our reality is dumbed down, sweetened up and veiled over, the closer to the “truth” we are.

For as long as there have been people, there have been a very large number of people who obey compared to relatively few who command. Considering that humanity has been a breeding ground for the cultivation of obedience, the average person has a need to obey, a “thou shalt”.

A herd instinct of obedience, taken to extremes, will signify that in the end, there will be nobody with independence or the ability to command.  A high, independent spiritedness, a will to stand alone, even an excellent faculty of reason, will be perceived as a threat. Everything that raises the individual over the herd and frightens the neighbour will henceforth be called evil.

Herd

Thus, Nietzsche sees Christianity as something inferior to man, something to grow out of, away from and above. It is the deterioration of the human race. To twist every instinct of the highest type of man into uncertainty, self-destruction and invert the whole love of the earth into hatred against the earthly. The most disastrous form of arrogance, who have given way to a herd animal, a mediocre breed.


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Greatest Philosophers In History | Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche’s main concepts on living life revolve around self-overcoming, amor fati, perspectivism, human nobility, the will to power, the eternal recurrence, and the overman.

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Nietzsche on Human Nobility

Nietzsche speaks of the idea of vornehmheit or human nobility. That it is not within knowledge per se. Knowledge is not something one can have like a detached thing that one possesses, but rather the knowing subject has to live his knowledge, it becomes associated to how much truth one can endure.

The nobility in human beings resides in putting oneself at a distance from people and things: to have a sense of differences in rank between people and strive for higher distinction.

He speaks of “the pathos of distance”, which refers to a differentiation between the ordinary and the noble types of man, a chasm separating the great from the mediocre. Nietzsche is concerned with issues of not just individual decadence, but also of cultural decadence. He is concerned with life-affirming great individuals, not merely for their own sake, but for the rejuvenation and flourishing of culture.

However, Nietzsche does not intend to elevate all of humanity. His intent is to elevate those who can be elevated. He is fine with the herd staying the herd, but he wishes to seduce people away from the herd and expects the herd to hate him.

The Herd

What most interested Nietzsche throughout his entire intellectual career can be summarised in the form of the question “how are we to live?”, or more poignantly “how are we to endure life?”

He conceives life as a chaotic process without any stability or direction. And that we have no reason to believe in such a thing as value of life, insofar as these terms imply the idea of an objective purpose of life.

Human life is value oriented in its very essence, without adherence to some set of values or other, human life would be virtually impossible. So, if there are no values out there and we cannot live without values, then there must be some value-creating capacity within ourselves which is responsible for the values we cherish, and which organise our lives.

The noble and brave types creates values. He honours everything he sees in himself: this sort of morality is self-glorifying. A faith in yourself, a pride in yourself and a fundamental hostility and irony with respect to selflessness belong to a noble morality.

Nietzsche stated that the modern man would have to create his own values and morals in a world void of religion and belief, while avoiding the risk of falling into nihilism, the belief that life is meaningless, devoid of any value structure.


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Greatest Philosophers In History | Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche’s main concepts on living life revolve around self-overcoming, amor fati, perspectivism, human nobility, the will to power, the eternal recurrence, and the overman.

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Nietzsche on Perspectivism

Nietzsche’s doctrine of perspectivism claims that our view of the world and the statements we take to be true, depend on our perspective of the world. Thus, it gives rise to the epistemological thesis that our knowledge claims can never be true in an absolute or objective sense.

Perspectivism lays the foundations of Nietzsche’s thought, philosophy is subjective, and no philosophy is ultimate – but helps as a base to allow others to see the world differently.

Nietzsche did have an influence on postmodernist philosophers, especially with his critique of morality (genealogy of morals), the death of god, etc. However, he was certainly not a postmodernist himself, he was beyond that, as he tried to create objective values to live by that can advance humanity (postmodernism rejects objective values). His will to power is an affirmation of life that enhances it and creates objective values. He is thus a philosopher of the future, beyond postmodernism.

He speaks of a new breed of philosophers approaching, of “free spirits¨. These are not ones who want to establish their truth as a truth for everyone (the secret wish of all dogmatic aspirations), they are outlaws, who are not in agreement with the majority, and whose judgments are their judgments alone. Inevitably they will be presented with bolted doors and shut windows, but for Nietzsche, these are free, very free spirits.

“Greatest of all is the one who can be the most solitary, the most hidden, the most different, the person beyond good and evil, the master of his virtues, the one with an abundance of will. Only this should be called greatness: the ability to be just as multiple as whole, just as wide as full.”


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Greatest Philosophers In History | Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche’s main concepts on living life revolve around self-overcoming, amor fati, perspectivism, human nobility, the will to power, the eternal recurrence, and the overman.

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Nietzsche on Self-Overcoming

Friedrich Nietzsche was a German philosopher of the 19th century, one of the most revolutionary thinkers in Western philosophy and intellectual history. He was a cultural critic of his era, of traditional European morality and religious fundamentalism, especially of Christianity.

Nietzsche heavily emphasised the concept of selbstüberwindung or self-overcoming. By this, he means the act of expressing strong emotions or using energy by doing an activity or creating something.

Self-overcoming

We must face reality, and suffering is part of life. It is not to be eliminated, it is to be overcome, leading to growth. We make everything around us so easy, superficial, and bright, unable to face reality. Is this truly freedom? For Nietzsche, this is a simplified and falsified world. So, to delight in life itself, we must confront it at face value – everything evil, terrible, and snakelike in humanity serves just as well as its opposite to enhance the species “humanity”. We are to be grateful for even difficulties.

It is clear that pain is an inevitable part of human existence. From birth till death – there is a 100% chance that we will suffer significantly painful experiences. But people run from the pain, they spend their life trying to be comfortable. Instead of running from it, Nietzsche would want us to face the hardship, as it is the only way we grow as people.

“What does not kill me, makes me stronger.”

Imagine climbing up a mountain. There is struggle, pain, and hardship along the way. But it’s only from the top of the mountain that you can see the most beautiful views life has to offer. And it is only the people that have the courage to climb that mountain, that will ever get to see that view.

Mountain view

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Greatest Philosophers In History | Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche’s main concepts on living life revolve around self-overcoming, amor fati, perspectivism, human nobility, the will to power, the eternal recurrence, and the overman.

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Book Review: Notes from the Underground – Fyodor Dostoevsky

Notes from the Underground is a novel published by Dostoevsky in 1864. It remains as one of the most important works of existentialist literature. In this work Dostoevsky attempts to justify the existence of individual freedom as a necessary part of humankind.

The novel consists of two parts. The first one, titled simply “Underground” is told through an unnamed narrator, known as the Underground Man. This part serves as an introduction into the mind of the Underground Man. He is a bitter 40-year old man living in a dilapidated apartment, who retired from his civil service job after inheriting some money. A complete nihilist and misanthrope who has been living “underground” or in his own reflective hyper consciousness for many years and has written these Notes from the Underground, which he does not intend to publish for the public.

Underground Man

The second part of the novel is called “Apropos of the Wet Snow”. At the end of the first part, the wet falling snow reminds him of his past events and haunts him, and out of boredom he begins to recount his troubled past experiences when he was 24 years old. His inability to interact with other people causes his attempts to form relationships and participate in life to end in disaster and drives him deeper underground.

Part I. Underground

I am a sick man… I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man […] I am sufficiently educated not to be superstitious, but I am […] No, I refuse to consult a doctor from spite. That you probably will not understand […] My liver is bad, well – let it get worse!

Right from the get-go, we are introduced into the unusual mind of the Underground Man. He is the quintessential anti-hero. He feels acutely envious of the “man of action”, one who possesses little intellectual capacity and is free from doubts, questions and resentments that are part of his subterranean consciousness.

But on the other hand, he finds solace in his sense of intellectual superiority, although it prevents him from participating in “life” as other people do, he is constantly overanalysing everything and is therefore incapable of making decisions.

He goes through a life full of self-loathing. As an orphan, he has never had normal, loving relationships with other people. He usually spends his time reading literature, but reflecting upon reality, he is aware of its absurdity and this contrast alienates him further from society.

The tension between his intellectual superiority and his profound self-loathing is a recurrent psychological theme throughout the novel.

The Underground Man has a limited repertoire of emotions, which include anger, bitterness, revenge, and humiliation. He describes listening to people as like “listening through a crack under the floor.” The word “underground” actually comes from a bad translation into English. A better translation would be a crawl space: a space under the floor that is not big enough for a human, but where rodents and bugs live.

Dostoevsky points out in the beginning, that such people as the Underground Man “not only may but must exist in our society, when we consider the circumstances in the midst of which our society has been formed.”

The Underground Man observes the rise of a utopian society which seeks to remove suffering and pain. He argues that man desires both things and needs them to be happy.

We want happiness but we have a special talent for making ourselves miserable.

“Man is sometimes extraordinarily, passionately in love with suffering: that is a fact.”

The Underground Man criticises 19th century utilitarianism, a school of thought that attempted to use mathematical formulas to align man’s desires with his best interests. He makes the point that the individual will always rebel against a collectively imposed idea of paradise, because of the underlying irrationality of humanity.

As individuals, we sometimes do not act in our own self-interest, simply to validate our existence as individuals, to exercise our free will. The Underground Man attacks this type of enlightened self-interest. He despises the idea of cultural and legislative systems relying on this rational egoism.

A Utilitarian and predictable life would restrict man’s freedom, life would be so extraordinarily rational that everything would become dull. This assertion explains the Underground Man’s insistence that he can find enjoyment in his toothaches or liver pains, it is a way of going against the comfortable predictability of life. Although he is not proud of this useless behaviour. In other words, the rule that two plus two equals four angers him, he wants the freedom to say two plus two equals five.

He blames himself that he is not wicked enough to be a scoundrel or insignificant enough to be an insect.

Man does not want what is disadvantageous to him, but man desires freedom more than happiness, the ability to do what one desires, even when it does one harm. But there is no guarantee that humans will use freedom in a constructive way. The evidence of history suggests the contrary, that humans seek the destruction of others and of themselves. One may say anything about the history of the world, the only thing one can’t say is that it is rational.

“Shower upon man every earthly blessing, drown him in a sea of happiness, so that nothing but bubbles of bliss can be seen on the surface, give him economic prosperity such that he should have nothing else to do but sleep, eat cakes and busy himself with the continuation of his species, and even out of sheer ingratitude, sheer spite, man would play you some nasty trick.”

Man is not reasonable; and even if he were to be reasonable, he would get out of his way to do something perverse.

Man likes to make roads and to create, but he also has a passionate love for destruction and chaos. Perhaps man only loves that edifice from a distance and is by no means in love with it at close quarters, perhaps he only loves building it and does not want to live in it. In other words, he loves the journey, but not the end.

Part II. Apropos of the Wet Snow

This part has a narrative style and serves as a practical illustration of the abstract ideas of the first part, describing specific events in the Underground Man’s life as a 24-year-old.

It is divided in three segments. In the first one, the Underground Man finds himself obsessed with an officer who has disrespected him in a pub. He frequently passes by him on the street, but the officer never acknowledges his existence. He ends up borrowing money to buy an expensive overcoat and bump into the officer to assert his equality. But to his surprise, the officer doesn’t flinch and keeps moving on without noticing him.

The Underground Man would’ve preferred humiliation, which actually gives him a sense of satisfaction and power, as he has brought about the humiliation himself. As long as he can exercise his will, he does not care if the outcome is positive or negative.

The second segment revolves around a dinner party with some old school friends, as he craves their attention and friendship. However, they arrive an hour late and so he is already furious and resentful and after a short time, gets into an argument with them, declaring all his hatred of society and using them as the symbol for it. At the end, they all go off without him to a secret brothel. The Underground Man, still fuming, follows them. Here he encounters Liza, a young prostitute, with whom he goes to bed.

The third segment starts off with both of them lying silently in the dark together. He confronts her with her utopian dreams and convinces her about her terrible fate and that she’ll slowly become useless and experience a disgraceful death. He gives her his address and leaves.

The Underground Man is anxious and with fear of her actually arriving at his shabby apartment after appearing such a “hero” to her. She arrives in the middle of an argument with his servant. After realising that she had come because she felt pity for him, he curses her and tells her that he was in fact laughing at her. He then wells up in tears after saying that he was only seeking to have power over her.

The Underground Man, who was an orphan and who had hardly experienced any love in his life, can only conceive of love as the total domination of one person over another. He then starts criticising himself and says that he is in fact horrified by his own existence. He runs after her but cannot find her.

Notes from the Underground launches an attack on all ideologies of social progress which aspire to the elimination of suffering, solving one problem and directing our nature to become unhappy in other ways. Ideologies that seek to improve the world always contain a flaw, they won’t eradicate suffering, but rather change the things that will cause pain. Thus, life can only be a process of changing the focus of pain and there will always be something to agonise us.

“Which is better: cheap happiness or sublime suffering? Well, come on, which is better?”

Suffering is part of the human condition, and we would be much happier accepting it as it is. At the conclusion of the novel, The Underground Man states:

“I have merely carried to an extreme in my life what you have not dared to carry even halfway.”

Here the Underground Man decides to end his notes. In a footnote at the end of the novel, Dostoevsky reveals that while there was more to the text, “it seems that we may stop here.” Although he leaves the plot hanging at the end without a definite conclusion, the inconclusive and bitter ending actually serves as the best possible one, as it reinforces – though does not resolve – the themes introduced in the book, highlighting the Underground Man’s profound psychological distress.

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Notes From The Underground in 10 Minutes | Fyodor Dostoevsky

Notes from the Underground is a novel published by Dostoevsky in 1864. It remains as one of the most important works of existentialist literature. In this work Dostoevsky attempts to justify the existence of individual freedom as a necessary part of humankind.


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Book Review: Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky

Crime and Punishment remains the single most widely known Russian novel as well as one of the greatest works in world literature. It is first and foremost a fascinating detective novel, but one in which we know from the very beginning who committed the heinous crime.

It focuses on the mental anguish and moral dilemmas of Raskolnikov, an impoverished law student in St. Petersburg unable to pay for his studies. He can be viewed as a materialistic rationalist, an oddity at that time and taken by the idea that God was dead. He was convinced that the only reason that anyone acted in a moral way was because of cowardice and tradition.

Raskolnikov

Dostoevsky wanted to set up a character who had every reason to commit murder: philosophically, practically, and ethically.

It starts of early with Raskolnikov formulating a plan to kill an evil and wealthy person after eavesdropping on a conversation in which a student claimed that the world would be better off if that person were dead and the money were given to someone who needed it more.

It is a book disguised as a murder mystery that delves deeply into the psychology and the mind of what a “murder” can be. The character development is fantastic. What fascinated me about Dostoevsky is his ability to make the opposite of his beliefs, the antithesis of what he believed, the strongest views possible – often making his characters the strongest, most handsome, smartest and most admirable people in his books, which takes great moral courage. Raskolnikov as a dissident and atheist nihilist, Razumikhin as the reasonable friend, Sonya as the wise one, and so on.

The book is focused on Raskolnikov’s moral dilemma between good and evil, he distinguishes between ordinary and extraordinary people (such as Napoleon). Raskolnikov’s pride separates him from society, he sees himself as a sort of “higher man”, a person who is extraordinary and thus above all moral rules that govern the rest of humanity, and so he cannot relate to anyone of the ordinary people, who must live in obedience and do not have the right to overstep the law.

After the murder, his isolation increases. The novel deeply explores the psychology of the inner world of Raskolnikov. Dostoevsky seems to suggest that actual imprisonment and punishment is much better than the stress and anxiety of trying to avoid punishment. One must eventually confess or go mad.

Dostoevsky portrays Raskolnikov as a nihilist, gloomy and with a feeling of deep emptiness, for the most part of the novel. He is a utilitarian who believes that moral decisions should be based on the rule of the greatest happiness for the largest number of people, thus justifying, in his mind, the murder.

“In general, an unusually small number of people are born with a new idea, or who are capable of even uttering something new…”

“…and great geniuses, the culmination of humanity – perhaps only as a result of the passing of many billions of people across the earth.”

Thus, he considers himself one of them, and in view of unfortunate worldly circumstances and the advancement of mankind in some way, he steps over the obstacles of murder and robbery.

However, things did not go as planned. After the carefully planned murder, he finds himself confused, paranoid and with disgust for what he has done. He enters periods of delirium in which he struggles with guilt and horror and has a series of disturbing dreams. In a way, along with the murder, he had also killed a part of himself. Add to that his atheism in a highly religious era and his nihilism.

In 19th century Russia nihilism became prevalent, espousing for the end of belief in religion and God and for it to be replaced by something new. At this time German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famously wrote that God is Dead, not a celebratory but a tragic statement. However, he believed that men could do without religion and create new values, rising up to the figure of the Übermensch or Overman. Thus, man becomes God.

Dostoevsky (left) and Nietzsche (right)

Dostoevsky saw this new atheist movement as incredibly dangerous; it laid the seeds for the character of Raskolnikov, with his own superman beliefs. Nietzsche read and admired Dostoevsky, he called him “the only psychologist from whom he had something to learn”, and that he “ranks amongst the most beautiful strokes of fortune in his life.”

Both Nietzsche and Dostoevsky had strikingly similar themes. Both are haunted by central questions surrounding the human existence, especially ones concerning God.

Can Raskolnikov endure to be extraordinary? How does he cope with life? Why should he go on living? What would he have to look forward to? To go on living merely to exist? Or is existence itself to little for him? Perhaps he wants something more than to merely exist among the ordinary people.

You’ll have to find out!


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Crime and Punishment in 10 Minutes | Fyodor Dostoevsky

Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment first published during 1866, remains the most widely known Russian novel as well as one of the greatest achievements in world literature.


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Jungian Archetypes: Self, Persona, Shadow, Anima/Animus

Few people have had as much influence on modern psychology as Carl Jung, he has coined terms such as extraversion and introversion, archetypes, anima and animus, shadow, and collective unconscious, among others.

He was a practicing psychiatrist and is regarded as the founder of analytical psychology or Jungian analysis. In his early years, he came into contact with Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis. They had a close relation and collaborated on a joint vision of human psychology. However, they parted ways as Jung’s personal research on analytical psychology and especially upon the discovery of a collective unconscious, made it impossible for him to follow Freud’s psychoanalysis, this resulted in a painful schism after years of collaboration.

Freud and Jung

Jung’s analytical psychology essentially gave birth to the empirical science of the psyche, which culminated in his magnum opus the “Collected Works”, written over a period of 60 years during his lifetime.

Jung distinguishes our psyche into three different realms: consciousness, the personal unconscious, and the collective unconscious.

Consciousness is composed of our field of awareness, all the experiences that we are aware of, this is where we form our Ego. However, according to Jung it is dwarfed in relation to the unconscious.

The personal unconscious is particular to each individual and is made of parts that are unique to our own lives, thoughts we are not aware of, have forgotten or have been repressed due to their disturbing nature.

On the other hand, the collective unconscious is the deepest part of our unconscious which is genetically inherited and not shaped by personal experience. This is where the archetypes are found. Archetypes represent universal patterns and images that are part of the collective unconscious. Jung believed that we inherit these archetypes just as we inherit instinctive patterns of behaviour.

Jung was also an expert on the study of religious and mythological symbology, the work in both of these fields lead to the discovery of the archetypes. The study of these myths of cultures revealed similar patterns, he even found the same symbols in the dreams of patients suffering from schizophrenia, which reinforced the idea of archetypes and the collective unconscious.

Apart from his travels in the United States and England, Jung had travelled to East Africa to learn about natives who had never been in contact with European culture, he also travelled to India where he felt himself “under the direct influence of a foreign culture” for the first time. Hinduism played an important element in his understanding of the role of symbolism and the unconscious.

Although Jung suggested a series of archetypes such as: the father (authority figure), the mother (nurturing), the wise old man (wisdom, knowledge), the hero (champion, rescuer), the trickster (troublemaker), among others. We will be focusing on what are regarded as the 4 major Jungian Archetypes: The Self, the Persona, The Shadow, and the Anima/Animus

1. The Self

The Self

To understand the Self, we need to know how it differs from the Ego, which is part of the realm of consciousness.

Jung considers the Self to be superior in rank to the ego. The ego is acquired during an individual’s lifetime and therefore it is a conscious factor. In theory, you could describe the ego completely, but this would only amount to the conscious personality, and not the total picture which would have to include the unconscious parts.

The ego is composed of the somatic and the psychic factors. The somatic is the physical self, our body, while the psychic relates to our inner self, our mind. Both the somatic and the psychic have conscious and unconscious factors.

The Ego’s main characteristic is our individuality, that is part of our consciousness; however, it is one part of the personality not the whole of it. The remaining part is composed of the unconscious.

The sum of the conscious and unconscious is what Jung calls the Self, which makes up the total personality of an individual.

To achieve the Self, Jung’s central concept revolved around what he called individuation or self-realisation. A lifelong process of distinguishing the self out of each individual’s conscious and unconscious elements. This he believed to be the main goal of human psychological development.

Now we delve into what Jung considered the most important part of ourselves, the unconscious.

Here’s where we encounter the Persona, Shadow, Anima/Animus, which have the most disturbing influence on the Ego.

2. The Persona

The Persona

The Persona is known as the conformity archetype, it is an element of the personality which arises for reasons of adaptation or personal convenience. If you have certain “masks” you put on in various situations, that is a persona. In essence, it conceals our real self, presenting ourselves as someone different to who we really are

As we please other people with our persona, it leaves our negative traits that contradict our real selves, forming our Shadow.

3. The Shadow

The Shadow

Jung stated the shadow to be the unknown dark side of the personality. Whereas the contents of the personal unconscious are acquired during an individual’s lifetime, the contents of the collective unconscious are invariably archetypes that were present from the beginning.

Among the shadow, the anima, and the animus, the most accessible and easiest to experience is the shadow, since it can be retrieved from contents of the personal unconscious.

To be conscious of the shadow, there must be a considerable moral effort recognising the dark aspects of one’s personality as real and present.

While some traits of one’s own shadow can be recognised, some offer greater resistance to moral control and prove almost impossible to influence.

An individual who does not recognise his psychological projection, a defense mechanism in which the individual defends himself against unconscious impulses denying their existence in himself while attributing them to others, will eventually create an illusory environment whereby he changes the world into the replica of his own unknown face.

Psychological projection

The Shadow plays an important role in balancing the overall psyche. A weak adaptation of the shadow results in a low level of personality, whereby the individual behaves like a passive victim of his shadow, extremely worried with the opinions of others, a walking Persona.

People who do not look at their shadows directly, project them onto others – the qualities that we often cannot stand in others, we have in ourselves and wish not to see. But, to truly grow as a person, one must integrate their shadow and balance it with their Persona.

It is possible for man to recognise the relative evil of his nature, but it is rare for him to gaze into the face of absolute evil.

An encounter with your shadow may appear in dreams typically as a person of the same sex as you. It depends on the living experience of each individual, rather than being inherited in the collective unconscious.

The dissolution of the persona and understanding one’s own shadow is a central part of the process of individuation.

In terms of the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, “it must be Jekyll, the conscious personality, who integrates the shadow, and not the other way around. Otherwise you will become the slave of your autonomous shadow.

The integration of the shadow marks the first stage of the analytic process, without it a recognition of anima and animus is impossible. However, the acknowledge of the shadow must be a continuous process throughout one’s life.

4. Anima and Animus

Anima and Animus

Within the shadow, there exists two contrasexual figures: the anima and the animus.

In every man’s psyche, there is an unconscious feminine aspect called the anima, which is a personification of all feminine psychological tendencies, while in every woman’s psyche there’s an unconscious masculine aspect called the animus.

Unlike the shadow which represents the personal unconscious, through which its content can be made conscious, the anima and animus are much further away from consciousness and are seldom realised.

Man’s anima is characterised by the feminine Eros. It is passive like a child seeking the protecting and nourishing charmed circle of the mother. While woman’s animus corresponds to the paternal Logos, the principal of rationality.

When man is integrating the anima, it becomes the Eros, giving way to a more caring figure. When woman is integrating the animus, it becomes the Logos, giving woman a capacity for assertiveness, and deliberation.

The anima appears in dreams, visions and fantasies taking on a personified form. She is a spontaneous product of the unconscious, and not a substitute figure for the mother, present in every man.

There are thoughts, feelings and affects alive in us which we would never have believed possible. This seems like utter fantasy to anyone who has not yet experienced it by themselves, for a normal person “knows what he thinks”.

The recognition of the anima gives rises to a triad: the masculine subject, the feminine subject, and the transcendent anima. With a woman, it gives rise to the transcendent animus.

Summary Jungian Analytical Psychology

The continuous integration of the contents of the collective unconscious, making them part of the Self, through psychotherapy, introspection, and having the moral fortitude to change one’s own beliefs, can have a considerable influence on ourselves and give us a much more solid foundation in our psyche, helping us to overcome our daily struggles and become much more aware of who we truly are, and that there are elements in our psyche beyond our control.


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Jungian Archetypes in 10 Minutes

The four major Jungian Archetypes: The Self, the Persona, the Shadow, and the Anima/Animus.


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Book Review: The Art of War – Sun Tzu

“The supreme act of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting” – Sun Tzu.

Fascinating book, more like a guide to perfection of war. War has been and still is the result of every conflict of humanity. It is quite amazing how advanced and way ahead of his time Sun Tzu was! To have a guide on how to defeat the enemy and for this guide to still be relevant in today’s day and age, that itself is an enormous advantage back in the day!

The book covers, most elegantly, the strategies that one ought to bear in mind for the destruction of the enemy. From the 9 different types of ground, using elements such as fire, earth, water and wind to your advantage, how to trick the enemy with spies (all warfare is based on deception), with perfect manoeuvres, the timely use of a bluff or feigning stupidity, the implementation of the utmost discipline to your soldiers and keeping them satisfied with rewards, the incredible importance that the commander-in-chief’s behaviour has on the army and on victory or defeat, how the mindset of your army changes everything, the use of birds for knowing if an enemy has occupied a certain region, if an army is doomed to certain death, their resolve with be maximum “when there is no escape, soldiers will prefer death to flight.”

Above all, rapidity – that is the essence of war. Taking advantage of the enemy’s unreadiness and making your way by unexpected routes, attacking undefended or less defended spots. Like the thunder which is heard before you have time to stop your ears against it. Plus, long delays and long wars is often associated with disaster, with the exhaustion of supplies and decay of the mindset of the solider.

The Art of War is a book attributed to Sun Tzu, who is revered as a legendary historical military figure, as well as a philosopher, and whose real name is Sun Wu. The name Sun Tzu is actually an honorary title meaning “Master Sun”.

Although the historicity of Sun Tzu is doubtable, and the book may very well have been a compilation of several scholars – we still have the privilege of possessing one of the first and most profound books ever written on strategy and war, whose principles are still used to this day due to the their importance.

The Art of War is not only concerned with modern warfare, but also spreads and influences the mindset of people in politics, games, and business.

It presents a sort of philosophy, a state of mind or psychology for managing conflicts and winning battles. It is closely tied to the philosophy of Taoism, which follows the Tao or “The Way”,  the principle of the universe to which everything is connected. It is about Yin and Yang, life and death, action and inaction – which is why the highest victory is one attained without engaging in a fight.

Main Takeaways

Chapter 1. Laying Plans

The soldier must be in complete accord with the ruler, regardless of life and death, undismayed by danger. The commander-in-chief’s behaviour can signify victory or defeat: he must be wise and benevolent, but also sincere and strict.

All warfare is based on deception. If an army is strong it must appear weak, if it is weak, it must appear strong. Feigning stupidity and the timely use of a bluff can greatly increase the chance of victory.

Success in warfare is gained by carefully accommodating to the enemy’s purpose.

“The opportunity to secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.”

Chapter 2. Waging War

War must be swift. Rapidity is the essence of war. Long delays are associated with disaster, exhausting all the supplies, leading to hunger and the decay of the will to fight of an army.

Therefore, take advantage of the enemy’s unreadiness and make your way by unexpected routes, attacking undefended or weak spots. Like the thunder which is heard before the flash of a lightning bolt.

For this, the ruler must implement the utmost discipline, an iron will, into his soldiers and keep them satisfied with rewards, essential for the motivation of the army and for having a purpose of defeating the enemy.

Chapter 3. Attack by Stratagem

The skilful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without any fighting, and he captures their cities without laying siege to them. The enemy should be eliminated strategically, leaving the civilians and city untouched and the men will be rewarded with all the enemy’s supplies.

To win, you must know when to fight and when not to fight and how to handle both superior and inferior forces. Great results can be achieved with small forces.

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you’ll succumb in every battle.

Chapter 4. Tactical dispositions

Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated.

Chapter 5. Energy

In battle, there are no more than two methods of attack: the direct and the indirect; yet these two in combination give rise to an endless series of manoeuvres.

The direct method may be used for joining battle, but indirect methods will be needed in order to secure victory, attacking the enemy’s flank or rear.

Simulated disorder postulates perfect discipline; simulated fear postulates courage; simulated weakness postulates strength.

The energy developed by good fighting men is as the momentum of a round stone rolled down a mountain.

Chapter 6. Weak points and strong

By figuring out the strengths and weaknesses of the enemy, you can be sure of succeeding in your attacks.

Sun Tzu was no believer in frontal attacks, but rather in a combination of surprise tactics such as attacking the weak points of the enemy’s camp,  splitting up the enemy’s reinforcements as to weaken their strength in numbers, and luring him so as to find out his vulnerable spots.

In essence, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.

Chapter 7. Manoeuvring

The hardship of forced marches are often more painful than the dangers of battle. Fighting with an exhausted army is a sure way to defeat, therefore – they must be only used when intended for surprise attacks within short distances.

Attack the spirit of the enemy’s army while your army’s spirit is at its highest. This is an effective way to victory.  

“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.”

One thing to mention is not interfere with an army that is returning home. For a man whose heart is set on returning home will fight to the death against any attempt to bar his way, making it too dangerous an opponent to tackle.

8. Variation of tactics

The wise leader considers both advantages and disadvantages and turning a disadvantage into an advantage.

If surrounded by enemies with the only objective of retreating, the adversary will pursue and crush the army. It would be far better to encourage the men to counter-attack and use the advantage thus gained to free them from the enemy’s toils.

The art of war teaches us not to rely on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him.

Sun Tzu explains that a general is not to be careless with the welfare of his troops, but rather to emphasise the danger of sacrificing any important military advantage to the immediate comfort of his men.

For there is no instance of a nation benefitting from prolonged warfare. Therefore, the profession of arms requires a combination of hardness and tenderness.

Chapter 9. The army on the march

Be aware of your surroundings. If faced with mountains, do not climb heights in order to fight. After crossing a river, you should get far away from it and deliver your attack when half the army get across. If forced to fight in marshes, have water and grass near you and get your back where there are trees, for the ground is less likely to be treacherous.

The rising of birds in their flight is the sign of an enemy ambush beneath the spot. Startled beasts indicate that a sudden attack is coming. And at the same time, if birds gather on any spot, it is unoccupied. This is a useful fact to bear in mind when, for instance, the enemy has secretly abandoned their camp.

Chapter 10. Terrain

With respect to terrain, high and sunny places are advantageous not only for their strategic spot, but also because they are immune from disastrous floods.

If we know that our own men are in a condition to attack but are unaware that the enemy is not open to attack, we have only gone halfway towards victory.

If we know that the enemy is open to attack but are unaware that our own men are not in a condition to attack, we have only gone halfway towards victory.

And if we know that the enemy is open to attack, and also know that our men are in a condition to attack, but are unaware that the nature of the ground makes fighting impracticable, we have still gone only halfway towards victory.

Chapter 11. The nine situations

The art of war recognises different varieties of ground. One which is of great importance is contentious ground, that which if occupied, gives great advantage to either side. So, those in possession of it have the advantage in battle over the other side and victory will be assured.

In A.D. 532, Emperor Shen-Wu was surrounded by a great army, with his force being much smaller. Instead of trying to escape, he made orders to block all exits. As soon as his army saw that there was nothing for it but to conquer or die, their spirits rose to an extraordinary pitch of exaltation, charging with such ferocity that they defeated their enemy.

“Plunge your army into desperate straits and it will come off in safety, place it in a deadly peril and it will survive.”

In other words, throw your soldiers into positions from where there is no escape, and they will prefer death to flight.

One of the most brilliant battles was carried out by general Han Xin of the Han dynasty in 204 BC. He detached two thousand horsemen from his army to hide in narrow passages, everyone carrying their flags. Then, he confronted the enemy with his men – while in battle, the horsemen made their move to the enemy’s base, tearing up their flags and replacing them with their own flags, when the enemy returned to their base, the sight of these flags struck them with terror. Convinced that their king had been overpowered, they broke up in wild disorder. Then from both sides, they were attacked and defeated.

The skilful tactician may be likened to the shuai-jan (a type of snake). To strike at its head and be attacked by its tail, to strike at its tail and be attacked by its head, to strike at the middle and be attacked by both head and tail.

Chapter 12. Attack by fire

Another important attack is using fire. The prime object of attacking with fire is to throw the enemy into confusion. When starting a fire near the enemy’s camp, it must be done so on the side facing the wind for it to spread faster.

Chapter 13. The use of spies

Espionage was a common practice, since what enables victory is foreknowledge. That is, knowledge of the enemy’s dispositions, and what he means to do.

However, it is impossible to obtain trustworthy spies unless they are properly paid for their expenses. Hence one must maintain an intimate relation with spies, more than the rest of the army. And none should be more rewarded than the spies, in order to keep the secrets, which have the power of gaining a quick and effective victory.

Spies can be obtained from your own men or your enemy’s men, offering them handsome rewards in return for valuable information. In this way, you will be able to find out the state of affairs in the enemy’s city. Thereby gaining knowledge of the enemy.

Spies are a most important element in war, because on them depends an army’s ability to move. An army without spies is like a man without ears or eyes.

The different measures suited to the varieties of ground, the expediency of aggressive or defensive tactics, and the fundamental laws of human nature, are of vital importance in the Art of War.

Sun Tzu ultimately emphasised the purpose of war to give way to peace and harmony within the society.

“In peace prepare for war, in war prepare for peace. The art of war is of vital importance to the state. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence under no circumstances can it be neglected.” – Sun Tzu

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